With so many faces swiping in and out of our facilities every day, we’re always intrigued as to what you get up to outside of SUSF. So, let’s step out of the gym and walk with member, George Lancaster and family, to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. 

Ever wanted to experience climbing 5,894 metres without going through the pain? Hopefully this will take you there.

After months of training at Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness, we arrive in Arusha, Tanzania. Already exhausted from the 32-hour journey, the next day we start our six-day trek up Mt Kilimanjaro.

I think back on the year to this point. My wife Nicky coming home one day, excited, having convinced the board where she works, The GI Cancer Institute, of her idea to solicit donors keen to climb Kilimanjaro. Finding people touched by these cancers is not difficult.  Whether any of them want to climb Kilimanjaro is another matter. At first it’s us four – Nicky, me, son Benjamin (age 25) and daughter Jessica (age 23). Luckily others join, and in the end there are fourteen climbers, who together raise $142,000, doubling our initial goal. 

The next day we arrive at Rongai Gate, elevation 1, 800 metres (5900 feet), we pour out of the bus and see the porters for the first time. Dozens of them, preparing for our arrival. Lunch is served but I am too excited to eat. The trail is visible, snaking off into the trees and all I keep thinking is when can we get started!

The walk to Kibo Camp, the last stop before ascending Uhuru Peak, the top of Kilimanjaro, is beautiful.  Starting in verdant rainforest, over five days we progress through heath and moorlands, alpine desert and finally a vast moonscape of grey dust.  But it’s strenuous. Over that time, we climb almost 3, 000 metres (10,000 feet), and though we are acclimatising to the high altitude, it doesn’t make breathing any easier, nor the final ascent any less daunting. It will begin that night and we won’t return to camp until mid-morning the next day. We must traverse 1,164 vertical metres (3, 822 feet) in the space of a few hours, in an atmosphere that is 40% of the oxygen content we’re used to in Sydney and in temperatures well below 0 degrees.

We start off at 11:30am. The grade is manageable, and the trail is hard packed.  Then we hit the first patch of scree, which is pea-sized gravel piled metres thick.  Without warning my forward foot slides laterally down the slope, as if on ice.  Shuffling quickly with the other foot, it slides too. I slip and slide this way, scrambling five extra sidesteps for every foot forward, labouring every breath. It is 12:30am, an hour in, with four more hours and dozens of scree patches to go. And that’s just to Gillman’s Point, the top of the caldera rim. There are two hours of climbing after that before we reach Uhuru Peak.

At the first rest stop Nicky tells us she can’t go on. We cajole to no avail and so the three of us continue on without her, and for the rest of the ascent I wonder how inconsolable she’ll be when we see her back at Kibo Camp.

When we reach Stella’s Point, an hour from the end, Jessica, Benjamin and I pose for a photo. And then my body turns into a statue. Immobilised by fatigue, I watch my kids go on without me.  After five minutes I take ten steps, then after a pause, take ten more and walk like this the rest of the way. When I reach the sign, that magical sign announcing the top of Kilimanjaro, Benjamin and Jessica are there.

No celebratory dancing for me, but I’m damn happy to have survived 5,894 metres (19, 340 feet). And incredibly happy to be there with my kids, so proud of them I could cry. I don’t do that for real until ten minutes later, after walking around a low rock wall on my way back down when I see Nicky. She’s sitting there, back to the wall, nestled between her trusted guides. 

I assure her it’s not far, and tell her about being with our children at the top. My pace quickens now, boosted by the sight of her. We won’t have a foursome photo at the final signpost, but who cares? We made it, all of us made it!